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by Matt Hegarty of

Handle on 2019 Preakness card sets new record
- HORSE RACING, Total betting on the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and the entire-14-race card on Saturday set records, according to charts of the races, extending a strong spring for racing’s big events, at least financially.

Total Preakness betting, including all multi-leg wagers ending in the race, was $62.84 million, according to the chart, a 1.4 percent gain on the record set last year. This year, 13 horses ran in the race over a firm track, whereas last year, eight horses ran on a sloppy track.

Last year’s field included Justify, the eventual Triple Crown winner, who went off at 2-5. This year’s field did not include any of the four horses who finished first under the line in the Derby, meaning a Triple Crown could not be won this year. Improbable, who finished fifth under the line in the Derby, was sent off as the 5-2 favorite this year.

Total betting on the card was $99.85 million, according to charts, a 6.6 percent jump over last year’s handle and a 1.93 gain over the record handle set in 2017. This year’s card had 126 runners, while last year’s card had only 93 due to a significant number of scratches because of wet conditions. The 2017 card had 125 runners.

Two weeks ago, handle records were set on the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Oaks, and both of the two races’ undercards. In addition, Pimlico set a record for handle for its Friday card, which features a number of stakes races, including the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes.

The handle records have been set against an uneasy backdrop in the racing industry, which has drawn widespread scrutiny this year due to catastrophic injuries and horse deaths, largely triggered by a spate of fatal injuries earlier this year at Santa Anita. The industry has also strangely benefited in the past two weeks over the controversy surrounding the disqualification of Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby, as far as staying in the midst of the national conversation.

Maximum Security’s owners decided to skip the Preakness. The race was won by War of Will, who was most directly impacted by the Derby incident that led to the disqualification.

Pimlico said that attendance on Saturday was 131,256, a slight decline from last year, when attendance was reported to be 134,487, the third-largest crowd to attend the race. Last year’s Preakness was conducted under extremely rainy conditions, while this year’s was conducted under sunny skies.

This year, Pimlico shuttered the entire north end of its grandstand one month prior to the race, citing structural concerns, a maneuver that cost the track’s frontside 6,670 seats. However, Pimlico did offer additional seating to customers who had already purchased tickets in the closed area.

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